Monday, April 10, 2017

Oh, and Assassin's Creed ain't shit, either

My schedule has been/continues to be a real motherfucker and when Terrence Malick's new entry in the annals of cinema and the anals of your movie-watching ass Song to Song came out, it wasn't as easy to find time to watch it.

The days of a Malick joint hitting the local neighborhood cineplex are either on hold or long gone because after The New World in '05, I had to make the drive to an Arclight or a Laemmle to see what he was up to, and even then, these last three films (counting this one) have only had two-week runs. It's like the distributors are admitting out loud "this shit ain't gonna make money, let's just put it out there long enough for award consideration and for the sad people such as the Exiled from Contentment guy who are still on Malick's balls to be able to see it".

Oh hey, real quick: He made a fuckin' IMAX movie a few months ago, Voyage of Time, and for the record, I loved it but I feel I need to see all three versions of it before I even begin spouting my bullshit about it on the blog. I ended up catching the 45-minute IMAX version that had no narration and was presented in a weird super-ultra-widescreen aspect ratio that Malick preferred because homeboy's wacky like that. It took me longer to drive to a theater playing it than it was to watch it. My commitment is that deep.

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah, by the time I had time to see this one, the closest theater still playing it was about 40 miles away from me -- at least with this one I wouldn't have that same driving/watching time imbalance as with Voyage -- and they only had one showtime at 12:30pm. It was playing at a theater smack-dab in the middle of a college, so I had to deal with walking among young people full of hope and energy, which just made me want to punch all of them in the face.

I sat on the far left of the back row and on the far right was an old couple and to the best of my ever-decreasing hearing I could make out the dude saying something like "I like this theater, they have closhbuthawthawbulaw" and the lady curtly responded with "The seats are uncomfortable" and so her point was made: YOU AIN'T NEVER GONNA GET TO SAY ANYTHING WITHOUT ME SLAPPING IT DOWN. TILL DEATH DO US PART, BITCH.

To be real with you, I was both hyped and apprehensive about this particular film. I mean, I love Terrence Malick, and if you don't believe me, ladies and gentlemen of the jury I present to you:

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C
Exhibit D
Exhibit E
Exhibit F

This time there was something about this film -- the subject matter! -- that was kind of making me pause and move forward and pause and move forward, kinda like hitting the Slow Motion option on your NES Advantage or other super controller for your 8-bit system. That was some bullshit, wasn't it? It wasn't real slow motion, it just kept pausing the game or bringing up the menu. Did anybody ever really get any use out of that shit? I'm asking for a friend. (Just kidding, I have no friends.)

As with most films, I know little to none about them going in aside from the very basic premise, who directed it, and maybe the actors in it. In the case of Song to Song, I knew it was Malick doing his thing in Austin, Texas about musicians, and I don't know man. I like music and all but I'm not sure I'm a big fan of musicians. Shit, I'm not the biggest fan of artists in general even though I love art -- figure that shit out. But musicians? Ugh. I've worked with some in the past and we're just different species, but to be fair, I feel that way about most people I work with regardless of what they do. I don't like them. But that's OK because you know who I dislike most of all? Me.

I swear, if I were a Highlander, I'd kill myself so many fucking times because I'm that fond of myself. At the very least it would be an awesome way to relieve myself of the awkwardness of being, that's for sure.


I went in with trepidation, and it turned out that I had nothing to fear because in this film, Malick does not really focus on the wankery involved in creating tunes, it really is just a background to what he is really interested in -- what he's always been interested in -- how we deal with our existence.

And a couple of paragraphs ago you found out how I deal with mine.

But how does pretty boy Ryan Gosling handle his? I don't know, you'd have to ask him. But as for the character he plays, BV, he seems to handle it in Gosling-esque ways by being kind of a goofball while trying to get his music career going. I like his musician character more in this film than the musician he plays in La La Land, because in this movie BV isn't trying to explain jazz to a lady while standing five feet away from a jazz band mid-performance who are probably wishing he would either shut the fuck up and let them play uninterrupted or just fucking die. He hooks up with a big time music producer, Cook, played by Michael Fassbender, who handles his existence in very Fassbender-esque ways by banging everything with a pulse.

My understanding is that despite (or maybe in spite of) writing a script, Malick pretty much tosses it away and just gives a few basic instructions -- if that -- to his actors and then has three-time-consecutive-Oscar-winning Mexican cinematographic wonder Emmanuel Mi Hermano The Muthafuckin' Chivo Lubezki Raza Cabron! run around filming them for as long as there is digital memory space available in the camera. And even then I'm sure there's some memory cards being constantly swapped for fresh ones.

What we see is what they came up with (Correction: what we see is the edited two-hour-plus result of miles and miles of footage; the original cut ran eight hours!) and mostly I feel what they come up with is as close to exposing the real them in the guise of being the character. It's some good shit, man -- both this process and the whiskey I'm currently drinking.

Anyway, things start off well -- Gosling and Fassbender are getting along, with the latter showing off his nice crib to the former and then saying some jerky shit like "I don't like it". Motherfucker. I'm looking at this awesome house and dreaming right there in the cinema about getting a place like that, but this guy is like EHHH I'VE LIVED IN BETTER and already I want to punch him in the throat on some Denzel/Liam shit.

During one sequence, Cook takes BV on his private jet to Mexico where they do the White Tourist thing by getting drunk and singing and rolling around on the ground, taking their shirts off while the locals continue playing la guitarra because they're so used to this kind of behavior from the Whites, they just want El Presidente to build that pared because the U.S. doesn't send us their best, they send us a bunch of cheap gueros who just want to get drunk and see a donkey show -- which was invented by some lonely guera who couldn't get a black dude and she just had to find a footlong one way or the other.

I guess it wouldn't be a surprise to tell you that somewhere along the way BV learns to regret letting Cook own the copyright on his work, because people are stupid enough to assume that the guy who promises to get you a house like his, or a closet full of suits just like the ones he wears, a guy who will jet you to Mexico and back for fun, is 100-percent trustworthy in business manners. And that's before Love gets in the way in the form of another aspiring musician named Faye played by Rooney Mara.

Ms. Mara is in town and she gets by with various odd jobs, including dogwalking and housesitting. At one point I thought she worked a gig as one of those sushi girls, but I guess these gamine types all look the same to me. She eventually gets a job with that asshole Fassbender, and from there hooks up with Gosling and then we get the usual Malik-ian scenes of walking around and frolicking and touching and looking at each other; it's like Malick took away most if not all things in a room or location that they could use to occupy their time with and instead instructed them to play with each other, like grown-up kids.

And maybe that's the idea; that when people are truly able to exist in a state of love with each other, only then can we actually become the pure and innocent creatures that God created us to be, before some apple-slinging asshole snake told us otherwise. The bitch of it is that these blissful moments are just that: Moments. And the snakes forever exist and don't have to be literal, they just have to be the things Life throws at us.

Like one example of a snake could be Fassbender's giant cock slithering its way into this A and B conversation of Love between our two, like "Hey, I want me some of that Rooney Mara action" and that's when things get complicated -- or should I say, more complicated because there's also Malick pulling his whole playing-with-the-concept-of-a-timeline tricks again, leaving me in the audience to go "Oh wait, so he's back with her -- oh no, this was before that happened -- oh wait why is this person still alive -- oh wait it's metaphorical --" before remembering that with a T-Mal joint it's just best to treat it like MST3K and really just relax.

By the way, speaking of "still alive", this motherfucker Malick kills off a character here and it fucking crushed me for what felt like twenty minutes, the sadistic fuck. I didn't even know this person's name -- by the way, I didn't know any of the character's names until I looked it up on IMDB because nobody ever calls each other by them, probably Malick's way of saying Fuck It They're Playing Themselves -- but I spent enough time with this person and watched this person change for the worse. I wanted the best for this character. I fucking cared for this character! It still pisses me off!

Anyway, yeah we follow these three along with a couple others -- Cate Blanchett! Holly Hunter! -- and then there's Natalie Portman as a waitress who has the pleasure of serving this unshaven fuck Fassbender and she falls for his bullshit despite having told him that she's busy and could get in trouble with her boss. She's all giggling and smiley but I bet you if I tried to pull that Fassbender shit with her, I'd end up being written about on fucking Jezebel or something. So many feminists would have a hard-on for me until someone else becomes Asshole Penis Of The Week and I'm left forgotten and crying about the attention I'm not getting anymore.

No sir, the best I could do with a waitress is get a smiley face on the check, maybe even a heart. Which I would then interpret as a sign that she loves me and there I go, beating off at home later that day imagining the life I could've had with her, if I had the balls to actually talk to her. But no, I pussied out and while I'm wiping the jizz off my blanket -- the fourth time this week! -- she's getting taken to Plow Town by Michael Fucking Fassbender.

As far as the music stuff in the movie, none of it really stood out for me. Despite there being many scenes taking place in and around concerts, music didn't feel that important a contribution to the film. It could've easily taken place at a food festival, really. It could've been about chefs. Ugh, no I take that back, because you know fuckin' Guy Fieri would show up and then I'd have to kill the world for allowing such a thing.

There are appearances by some real life musicians like Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and Johnny Rotten (who for once isn't pulling that sad "I'm still an angry young lad" shit, siddown ya old bloated fuck). Oh and Anthony Kiedis pretends to beat up punk-ass Fassbender, which I guess I can pretend to applaud. And at one point we are treated to the sight of Val Kilmer on stage, losing his shit as he chainsaws a speaker, chops off his long hair with a knife, then throws what he claims to be uranium from his mom at the audience, before being escorted off the premises.

There are also non-appearances by Benicio Del Toro, Christian Bale, Arcade Fire, and Angela Bettis, who all had roles but were cut out of the movie. As I've said before in a previous Malick rambling, the list of people who were cut out of a Terrence Malick movie is just as impressive -- if not more impressive -- than the ones who made it.

(Oh shit, I mentioned Cate Blanchett earlier which means I have to make my mandatory "Cate Blanchett held open a door for me once" statement. Well, she did. Yeah, yeah, I know -- for her, it was Tuesday.)

I'm fucking around here with my ramblings on this movie, but the truth of the matter -- the brass tacks, as it were -- is that Song to Song was just as much an intensely introspective experience for me as every other Malick film since The Thin Red Line, and as such, it left me exhausted and in borderline tears sometimes. Some of it had to do with the relationship stuff, certain actions and lines felt too goddamn real and true in the worst way -- which just goes to show how naked these actors were in playing these parts, exposing probably a little more than they expected in these marathon filming sessions. And in addition to the death of a character knocking me off balance, there was also a scene between a character and an ailing father and you probably already know how I feel about THAT.

There's also a scene with a lady with what appeared to be acne scars on her face, and she just finished banging that fuckin' asshole Fassbender and sweet Natalie Portman in a three-way, and I think she was paid for it. Which I guess makes her an escort. Anyway, she starts talking about how she lost the man in her life to that piece-of-shit Death and how it left her psychically adrift, and how she's still kind of adrift but she feels that God has a plan for her -- as he does for all of us, I hope, if He exists, I hope -- and this must be part of the plan and OH MAN the shakiness in her voice felt too goddamn real for me. I felt I was watching a "real" person sharing something incredibly personal with all four of us in the audience and it made me tear up and I wanted to give her a hug before asking her what kind of action I could get for fifty bucks.

I know what kind of action I can get from a twelve dollar movie ticket, though; hot Bérenice Marlohe from Skyfall shows up as a hot French lady who hooks up with Rooney Mara and here is another reason Terrence Malick is one of my favorite filmmakers EVAAAAR -- he gives us One Perfect Shot where the two ladies are passionately kissing each other on the left side of the frame right in front of us, while on the right side of the frame in the background is Marlohe's slightly out-of-focus dog who is basically frozen with his face all like OH YEAH and the only thing missing was for this dog to have on a pair of sunglasses so he can tilt them downwards while peeking his eyes above the frame, followed by the soundtrack cueing up "Oh Yeah" by Yello.

Listen, I've already gone on in other Malick ramblings about his style with the wide-angled ever-roving camera and the heavy use of inner monologue and the elliptical editing style and how the whole thing feels less like a story and more of a peek into someone's fragmented memories -- or shit, even their final thoughts before leaving this world -- or holy shit, God hitting the "shuffle" command on his iTunes playlist labeled "Human Beings". I've said it then and I'm saying it now. It's that same style and thankfully Malick has succeeded in whatever the fuck it is he was trying to do. All I know is that it feels like I get it.

Anybody could've taken the premise of following the love lives of three people in the Austin, Texas music scene and made more or less the same movie. Malick uses it as a jumping off point into something deeper. Or wankery. Your mileage may vary -- just make sure your mileage is as far the fuck away from me as possible.

At this point -- seven films in before this one -- if you're familiar with Malick and he just isn't your jam, then you should know by now to stay as far away from this film as if it had all of the Ebola waiting to creep into your open-wounds. To complain about Malick's filmmaking now would be like suddenly going "You know what, I regret voting for him".

On the other hand, if you were a fan of his work and have seen Song to Song and this was the one that made you get off the Terrence Malick train, it's understandable. You have my respect for making it this far. Now all I need you to do is ignore the tears rolling down my cheeks as I tell you to turn around and face the other way and close your eyes while I put the .22 to the back of your head. It will be quick, I promise.

But to the rest of you, you lucky few who are still on board with my man and haven't had a complaint yet? I say Welcome, brothers and sisters. And fuck Michael Fassbender.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Oh I almost forgot -- Giorgio Moroder did the themes for the film but I wish he did the whole score because was he getting into some mad synth-ing, baby!

Walter Hill is my dude, and if you've read this blog for a long time, you already know this. But in case you didn't, well, Walter Hill is my dude.

And so, you bet I was going to make it to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for the Los Angeles premiere of his latest film, The Assignment, not to be confused with the 1997 film The Assignment, which only shares the similarities of having a nutty premise and being good times. Mr. Hill would be in attendance for a Q&A following the film. (I found out later that Michael Mann was also there but left before the Q&A. The presence of both manly man filmmakers in such close proximity would explain why my voice is now deeper, there's more hair on my chest and my testicles appeared to have gotten bigger.)

As for the film: Masculine/feminine actress Michelle Rodriguez is perfectly cast as femme-y macho hitman Frank Kitchen, who one day wakes up to find herself plus tits and minus penis because one of his marks was the brother of a brilliant-but-mad doctor played by Sigourney Weaver. At this point in my life, I think I'd be fine giving up the dong if it meant I would wake up looking like Michelle Rodriguez. It's not like I've been using said D to its full potential. Besides, I already have the tits, so it's like I'm halfway there.

It's very much a Walter Hill joint in that it's a fast and simple tale, a painting told in broad strokes of primary colors. It doesn't try to pass itself off as anything more than purely B-movie. There are occasional uses of comic book framing similar to what Hill did to his director's cut of The Warriors, which didn't bother me at all, because this is a brand new movie with an established style rather than a classic that we all loved just the way it was. It also shares a similarity with his other works by featuring a hero who speaks in few words going up against a villain who speaks in many words (who much like Bruce Dern's character in The Driver, just wants to let others know how smart she is.)

Rodriguez acquits herself well in the role. Her portrayal of Frank Kitchen isn't so much a stoic badass as more of a person who prefers to keep his distance in all endeavors due to...what? I don't know. Hill has never been one to give a shit about someone's backstory, preferring to let the actions of the character speak for themselves. And it works here.

When Kitchen picks up a girl for some late-night banging, his post-coital dismissal of her is less of a "love 'em and leave 'em" type of vibe and more like someone who's been hurt before and prefers not to let that happen ever again. There's a hint of vulnerability to everything Rodriguez does in the film, but just a hint. I mean, Kitchen still is quick with the steel and not one to cross.

And yet, that's what Sigourney Weaver's character does. And man, as much as I liked Rodriguez in this film, it's Weaver's performance that I was most impressed with. She's nuts, this lady (her character, I mean -- I wouldn't know about Ms. Weaver's mental stability) but it's not a raving loon kind of crazy, or even a creepy Hannibal Lector kind of crazy.

For the most part, she speaks in a rational manner that would lull you into thinking she's fine, then you would ask her about the many homeless people she experimented on and she would respond in a calm and rational manner what basically amounts to "Well of course, why wouldn't I use homeless people to perform my horrific experiments on?" and her tone might change a bit to annoyance because you're so stupid and your small brain would never be able to comprehend the greatness she hopes to achieve. She's not chewing up the scenery, but you just fucking know Weaver is having a ball playing this character.

In comparison to other Walter Hill movies, The Assignment isn't a slam-bang actioner like Extreme Prejudice or a stylish neo-noir like The Driver; this felt to me more like a 90-minute version of one of Hill's "Tales from the Crypt" episodes, albeit one with a shootout every once in a while. If you're not familiar with his directorial contributions to that series, they weren't really horror hikes but instead a swim in the waters of Lurid and Pulpy As Fuck. So imagine my delightful surprise when Hill said during the post-film Q&A that his approach to this film was to make a "king-sized Tales from the Crypt episode". Me and Walter Hill are in sync, brother!

Speaking of that Q&A, it started off fine with the interviewer having a reasonable discussion with Hill, then the dreaded words "let's open it up to the audience for questions" were spoken and therefore caused my usual Pavlovian response of clenching shut both my eyelids and asshole.

An elderly gentleman started by asking why Hill didn't allow Weaver's garrulous character to complete a quote from Aristotle's Poetics, to which Hill responded "You're complaining that she didn't talk enough in the movie?" and then the elderly man asked Walter Hill -- who had earlier discussed reading EC Comics as child -- if he was familiar with the old EC Comics and then he asked Walter Hill -- who had produced the "Tales from the Crypt" HBO series and said ten minutes ago that he had basically made a feature-length Crypt episode with The Assignment -- if he was familiar with a series of comic books called "Tales from the Crypt" and I was too busy digging through the carpet and concrete below me with my fingernails to remember if Hill even answered him.

Hill also told a story about how he went to Michelle Rodriguez shortly before filming began and said something like "In case you haven't noticed, you're Latina. So maybe we should change the name of Frank Kitchen to something Latino" and her response was something like "No, why would I do that? Of course his name isn't really Frank Kitchen, he's always in disguise and uses a false name. It would make it easier for cops to find me if they knew I was Latino" and Hill laughed as he told us that he felt humiliated -- here was the writer/director being schooled on his own creation by the actor. But basically his point was that he doesn't like to do too much discussion about the characters with the actors, feeling that if the actor does his or her job right they would know the character better than anybody else.

Later, Hill discussed the controversy about the film being seen as transphobic. He first cleared the air by saying that things have definitely changed since he was young, and that we are living in an increasingly gender-fluid society, which he feels is a good thing. Hill went on to say that this wasn't meant to be a transphobic film; for one, Frank Kitchen isn't trans -- he identifies as male throughout the entire film, regardless of the forced genital reassignment surgery given to him. This is also why they didn't cast a trans actor, even though that was considered earlier in production -- well, that and the simple issue of the financier who would only invest money in the film if a name actor starred in the project.

I have to agree with Hill; the film doesn't treat being turned into a woman as the A Fate Worse Than Death. Hell, even Mad Scientist Weaver says in the film that she didn't mean it to be some kind of absolute punishment, but more of a second chance for Kitchen to start over by removing him from the "macho prison" she believed he was living in. In response, Rodriguez's vengeance mantra is simply a matter of: I Didn't Ask For This, You Forced It On Me, Now You're Going To Pay.

The worst of it is when Kitchen wakes up and finds himself sans johnson; he screams and smashes some stuff, which I completely understand. I mean, unless you're me, you'd probably freak out too if you woke up with the complete opposite of the usual genital situation you've been accustomed to all your life. And that's about it for the freak-out stuff; there's no monologues that follow about being cursed to live as a female from now on. At most, there's a scene where Kitchen visits a surgeon and asks about the possibility of getting the procedure reversed, and a moment where he bitches about having to sit down to pee.

So I don't feel the film is transphobic, but then again, I'm not transgender, so what do I know? I don't like my non-Latino brothers and sisters to assume they know how I feel, so I sure as shit ain't gonna do it to my alt-gender peeps out in that cold, hard world.

What I do know for sure is that this was a good-not-great entry in the Walter Hill canon for me -- one that is mostly surface but what an entertaining surface! -- and that I'm gonna run for the hills the next time a moderator asks for questions from the audience.

In conclusion, The Assignment (2016) would make a good double feature with The Assignment (1997).